Sunday, November 7, 2010

Attention Please!

This early review book caught my attention because of the topic: a mother’s year of paying attention to her distracted son.  Paying attention and focusing  has been on my mind a lot these days because I feel I do everything at once.  I am the champion of multi-tasking.  Or rather, I do nothing well because I am distracted by everything else. What does it take to focus?

Katherine Ellison wants to specifically spend a year focusing on her son because he is diagnosed with ADD—Attention Deficit Disorder.   He is chronically misbehaving in school and fighting with his parents and brother.  Ms. Ellison realizes that she shares a lot of these problems with her son and thinks a year of learning to focus can be good for them both.

Each chapter is devoted to a different kind of practice and learning about ADD and the therapies that have arisen to teach people to focus in spite of ADD.  In the chapters we see a very interesting story of a mother and her real struggles with husband and children culminating in an emotional but successful Bar Mitzvah for the boy who is subject of this story.

The thread that ties most of the chapters together and the most interesting debate and argument that runs through the book is whether or not to medicate one’s ADD child.  It is a rancorous debate and one which I will need to stop pontificating on myself.  The author suggests that you can not really know what you will do unless you have a child with these problems. 

I did find this memoir to be very interesting especially if you are a parent who is struggling with these issues or thinking about medicating your child.  It got a bit dry at times—mostly when discussing various therapies and how they work or don’t work. The real interest for me was in her sweet relationship with her son and her own realizations about how to be a better parent.  The chapter when she went to the mediation retreat was funny.  I really related to her struggles with silence.

To be sure there are lessons for all of us in here about being a better parent, focusing on your life and what is important to you, loving your children in spite of who they are and a great discourse about the place of big pharma in all our lives.

How about you?  What do you pay attention to?  Ever been to a meditation retreat?


Scott S. Semester said...

I haven't been on a meditation retreat, but I did do an experiment last year while on an at-home vacation. (My long-standing prohibition of the word "staycation" is well-documented; therefore "at-home vacation.")


My experiment was to challenge myself to a whole day of single-tasking, rather than giving myself over to Continuous Partial Attention, as we post-millennial western humans have been socialized to do. So when I was on the computer, I only had one window open -- writing only, not writing and twittering and listening to music. At noon, I was making lunch only, not making lunch and watching TV and chatting on the phone with a friend.

I lasted about 5 hours before finally putting some music on in the background of whatever it was I was doing. And once that hole was drilled, the whole dam burst.

I don't know if our brain chemistry has changed over the last 50 years, or if our behavior has been influenced by the logarithmic explosion of media vying for our attention, or what. But I can tell you it's damned hard to only do one thing at a time these days. Damned hard.

Steph said...

I know the science says that if I do only one thing at a time, I'll be more efficient at it...but I don't see how I could keep my job if I didn't mulitask. Seriously, we move so quickly and constant juggling is a necessary survival task. I don't care for that - but it's the current work environment for me. Maybe we're just really good at fast switching.

At home, I need to work on being a more focused listener to the DH! Not multitasking in my personal relationships is an important thing, I think.

Scott S. Semester said...

Ah, Steph nails an important distinction: multitasking at things we do (at work, at home, in free time) vs. multitasking at how we are (in relation to one another, in, love, etc.) -- areas at which "efficiency" is valued in very different ways. Interesting...